Wilkes's DIARY - UK - News - The Independent

Wilkes's DIARY

Wilkes enjoyed a pleasant few days canvassing for John Godfrey, the Tory candidate in the Perth and Kinross by-election, and indeed takes credit for three of the four votes he secured.

But it was a curious affair. In the small pub satirically known by local journalists as the International Press Centre, attention centred on the youth of the Labour candidate, Douglas Alexander, rumoured to be only 13. He was described on television as ''ma wee toy-boy'' by one local lady and has aroused paternal feelings even among the Scottish press corps. The Dundee Courier's political editor frightened his wife by springing out of bed in the middle of the night and grabbing his clothes. Asked what he was doing, the sleepwalking hack announced that he had forgotten to ''tuck Dougie Alexander up in bed''. Aaah.

The other big issue concerned one of the fringe candidates who was reported to have been the victim of a ''Bobbit-style'' attack some time earlier. According to rumours sweeping the genteel streets of Perth, the microsurgery that followed wasnot entirely successful. I can hardly bear to write it - but they say IT was sewn back on upside-down.

Renewed speculation about the imminent return to novelism (the practice of novelists) of Douglas Hurd is another thing frightening the horses north of the border. Why would the Foreign Secretary's departure affect Scotland? Well, Malcolm Rifkind would have to move from Defence to the Foreign Office. Ian Lang would move from the Scottish Office to Defence. And Michael Forsyth, the arch-Thatcherite minister who last week suggested "privatising the streets", is in line to become Secretary of State for Scotland. Still, the Scots would only have to put up with him for a couple of years, as his Stirling seat is ultra-marginal.

Dearie, dearie me. Wilkes fears that Honest John Major has gone too far this time. The prospect of a challenge is becoming increasingly real, largely thanks to the Nolan committee, which has demanded that MPs' earnings from consultancies be made public. Last year, supporters of Norman Lamont failed to raise the necessary 33 names to mount a challenge. Not so this year. One of the leaders of the putative putsch told me: "It's a pity they're closing Bart's accident and emergency unit. There are going to be casualties in the crush."

The poison being spilled by my backbench colleagues is on the grounds that it was the Prime Minister who set up the committee and he is going to pay for it. However, so great is the bile welling up over the threat to Honourable Members' "little bit on the side" that it could spill over in other directions. Sir Marcus Fox, the world's greatest living Yorkshireman, is being threatened with the order of the boot as chairman of the 1922 Committee.

Sir Marcus got the job after Cranley Onslow lost the confidence of the backbench in the post-Thatcher era. But Sir Marcus is now regarded by many as being too close to the wretched Major. Sir Marcus likes to be seen as a little Yorkshire terrier, but the chaps see him more as a Number Ten poodle, despite his whufflings about the need for a reshuffle.

There could, on the other hand, be an attempt to steady the ranks by ousting the sinister ex-journalist George Gardiner as chairman of the Banzai brigade's "92 Group" - a Thatcherite conspiracy named after 92 Cheyne Walk, where it used to meet.

Tony Durant, who is relatively normal, tried and failed earlier this year. His campaign was halted by his opponents spreading the word that as a former whip, Durant was the establishment candidate. Now the Durant people are trying to get the large and amiable rightwinger Bob Dunn to have a go. Bob, a wily former education minister, likes to keep in the background, where he can have more influence. I don't see him falling for it.

There is clearly no lack of enthusiasm on the Labour side either for their farcical annual contest for the Shadow Cabinet. Although the elections do not take place until the autumn, wearisome canvassing has already begun with hopefuls and diehards putting themselves about in the tea room. This the last-but-one contest before the next election, after which a victorious Tony Blair would be able to dump the whole ridiculous affair. He has been telling friends that he wants to dump Gordon Brown, put Robin Cook into the Treasury, bring in Peter Hain as Defence Secretary and make Peter Mandelson Chief Whip. (Only joking, boys.)

The past two years have seen politically incorrect male MPs dumping their mandatory "women's" votes on the likes of Mildred Gordon, the ageing no- hoper. But now that all groups must be seen to be properly represented, the thing that strikes Wilkes - in the week of Harold Wilson's passing - is the heavy over-representation of Scots in the Labour frontbench hierarchy. My research shows hardly any in Harold's time. My advice to Labour colleagues is to ask the Scottish brothers and sisters whether they would give up their Westminster seats to serve in the new Scottish Parliament. George Robertson, the current shadow Scottish Secretary, has come up with the neat formulation that he would be "proud" to serve there, but I ha'e ma doots about many of the rest. This is an important point. Misgivings are already surfacing about the quality of candidate that might emerge for the Edinburgh Parliament. In the absence of a crop of good people with Westminster experience, and given the quality of some local Scottish councillors, Labour could be left with the sort of material that helped to bring the Monklands Labour council into such disrepute. Come on Robin, your country needs you!

Wilkes gets regular copies of the European Journal Bulletin, a mad Europhobe newsletter produced by Martians. Anyone who doubts this need only refer to the lead item in the current newsletter on the French presidential succession by Jacques Chirac. It is written by Agnes Alexandre, who is described as "researching British Euro-scepticism" at the Sciences-Po in Paris. No doubt there will soon be a doctorate in Bill Cashism.

Meanwhile, word reaches me from Spain that an agent of Michael Portillo's biographer, a young Scottish Tory called Michael Gove, is rifling through the state archives investigating the Dauphin's family tree. The book is being rushed out in time for a leadership contest in November.

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